The government has announced its intention to grow the workforce in the tourism industry to 1 million people by next year in an effort to meet the demands of an ever-growing number of tourists to the Kingdom.

The goal is not only to expand the number of workers but also to increase the proportion of that workforce composed of skilled professionals, the Ministry of Tourism recently announced.

The ministry’s goal is to create more jobs for tourism students and to increase professionalism in the sector, said Mean Vandet, director of the ministry’s education and training department.

“This year we are expecting 7 million foreign tourists. Now, there are 800,000 people employed in the sector. We need to expand that figure to 1 million to be able to cope with the expected rise in the number of tourists in upcoming years,” he said.

Sitting at the university’s library, year-four tourism student Mao Sreypov says she hopes for a long and successful professional career in the sector, a career she kick-started this year with a part-time position at a local hotel.

As a tourism major at Phnom Penh’s Pannasastra University, Sreypov, who hails from Takeo province, said she chose to study tourism because she thinks it will increase her chances of finding good employment and because she wants to contribute to the development of the country’s vibrant tourism industry.

She says Cambodia has great potential in tourism but that the quality of the sector’s workforce still leaves a lot to be desired, particularly because education centres are failing to teach the skills that are in demand.

“I decided to study tourism because I love this industry. Cambodia has so many amazing sites and natural resources that everyone around the world should see.

“We have many great tourism destinations but we lack good human resources. I want to see more vocational training centres giving students practical work experience,” she said, adding that she sought employment at a restaurant while studying to get that experience.

“My plan always was to receive training at a vocational institution on hospitality because I want to understand the theory. However, I also needed to get a job at a restaurant because there are many things that you won’t learn at school.

“If you want to be prepared to join the workforce, you must do an internship, or take a part-time job, with an actual business while you study,” she said.

According to the government, 65 percent of the 800,000-strong labour force in the sector classifies as “skilled”, which means that they have received some sort of accreditation through a training programme.

“We have a lot of people working in the sector but a lot of them are still unskilled,” Mr Vandet said.

“To remedy this, the ministry has established a programme to help workers earn certifications and become professionals in their fields. We expect this programme to help increase the number of skilled and qualified workers in the sector,” he said.

The government is also encouraging the creation of more vocational training centres, particularly in important tourism destinations, Mr Vandet added.

Moreover, the Ministry has requested the collaboration of the private sector to improve the sector’s human capital.

“We need companies to work together with the ministry to provide training to tourism workers. We need travel agencies to send their employees to training programmes,” Mr Vandet said.

“With more training, tour operators will be able to give a better service.

“The tourism sector needs more workers,” Mr Vandet said, adding that students graduating from a tourism-related major today are guaranteed to find a job.

Lim Sinoeun, a recent graduate from the University of Cambodia, said good employment prospects motivated her to pursue a career in tourism.

“There are many jobs in tourism,” said Ms Sinoeun, who landed a job at a Phnom Penh-based airline shortly after graduation.

“During my studies, I worked for a few companies to gain experience on tourism-related fields. Now, I work at an airline which is a good match for my academic background,” she said.

Last year, the ministry again took initiative to encourage more people to study tourism with a programme to help students finance their studies.

The programme seeks to tackle the perceived shortage of tourism professionals by enhancing students’ access to credit that will be used to finance courses at universities and vocational centres.

The process involved in securing the loans is simple, and the conditions are being kept low, including having no collateral requirements, the tourism ministry said.

Last year, Cambodia welcomed 6.2 million foreign tourists, an increase of 10.7 percent year-on-year.

The Ministry of Tourism says that 15 million foreign holidaymakers are expected to visit the Kingdom a year by 2030. The government aims to reach 2 million workers in the tourism sector that same year.